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Author Topic: Item Collecting  (Read 4694 times)
Michael S. Miller
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« Reply #15 on: December 27, 2002, 07:27:39 AM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards

5) Very minor point: the first game that I'm aware of to provide pre-roll dice bonuses based on "cool" description was Sorcerer. (Contrary to popular belief, Feng Shui does not feature this mechanic.)


Very minor quibble (mainly 'cause I'm shaky on the chronology of Sorcerer): Wasn't Extreme Vengeance around first?

I think this game in particular shed light on the thread topic as it is a great example of character effectiveness being linked neither to game-world item collection nor to character-creation ideas of what the character is like (I mean, just about everybody ends up with most of the game's Repertoires), but to at-the-moment player creativity. Jon, I think you should really take a look at Extreme Vengeance if you can find a copy (try eBay).
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #16 on: December 27, 2002, 07:30:31 AM »

Hi Michael,

Good call on Extreme Vengeance - I agree with you about its importance.

The chronology is iffy, based on when the games began to be played - Sorcerer had a long con history before its internet publication in 1996 - but if we're talking about books, then yes, Extreme Vengeance came first.

Best,
Ron
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erithromycin
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« Reply #17 on: December 27, 2002, 07:55:52 AM »

Just to clarify the 'thematic bundles of powers' thing, I concur that one could describe the protagonists of a variety of media as such, but I do think that comic books are an exception, though perhaps only with relation to an older style of game design. Superheroes, to me, at least, seem more defined by their abilities than any other kind of protagonist [1]. Perhaps I'm reading too much into the way that games like Champions approached the way that they modeled their characters, but I think [again, opinion] that it's easier to describe a superhero as a bundle of powers with a thematic link than any other kind of character.

I do think that there's something there more than 'glitz', though it may, in effect, be nothing more than a stylistic quirk, though one that springs from the medium that gave rise to the game. Think of it as a convention, perhaps.

I was focusing on character advancement because that's what sprang to mind first. That said, to go back to the Captain America example, you raised an interesting idea - what incentive is there for Cap not to pick up the gun?

We must assume that Cap is capable of using a gun, he was, after all, a GI, so he's unlikely to be less effective with it than his shield, say. It's not 'in character' or 'in premise', so he may not get benefits their - it's a distinctly 'unCap' thing to do. He's unlikely to want the gun, unless it's to be a souvenir, because, well, he's Captain America. If he wants a gun the QM will doubtless give it to him. The one thing I did note though, was screentime - If Cap picks up a gun and drills someone, that's a panel "BLAM!". If he runs across the room using his shield to deflect the bullets [BRAK! SPANG!], and subdues the bad guy with a punch [POW!], that's three, and within the idiom too. No?

To return to Zaal's post though:

Paying for what you find in play is an interesting topic. I must confess that, as a player, I resented having to pay XP for the loot I scavenged in Champions, and as an ST I'm perplexed as to how to cope with the 'social things' [2] that my players gain in Downtime. Now, I'm all for taking things from my fallen foes, largely because I like treasure, but also because, unlike Captain America or Batman, the souvenirs are petty personal things. Mementos, if you will. The Downtime issue comes down to time. With only a fortnight in each installment, influencing things or making money is time that can't be spend in other places.

I think what I'm trying to say is that paying for things that you acquire needn't be a case of cementing them with XP. There could be 'physical constraints', like time, or even what you can carry, but what seems to be a 'more narrative' [3] are 'moral constraints'. Captain America keeping the gun seems, at first glance, like an admission of weakness. Imagine how the morale of Cap's comrades would be affected by his preference for Nazi weaponry?

Zaal, your eagerness to play S&S with characters who are thematic bundles would probably work, but I'm finding my own Sorcerer ideas are becoming more and more divorced from what demons can do. Though that's a long overdue post over in Adept Press for another day.

drew

[1] That, in and of itself, may be a product of the ossification of their development as an entity, but that's another discussion for another place.
[2] Influence over groups, boons, money - things that cost at creation.
[3] I cringe too, but it's what I mean, I think.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #18 on: December 27, 2002, 08:33:34 AM »

Hi there,

Drew, those are interesting points all 'round. I think we agree about the superheroes, in the main: (a) the concept of a protagonist as a thematic bundle and (b) that superheroes are a focused or readily-understandable case. Damn good point about screen time, too. The only, rare exception is that certain, specific off-character behavior is sometimes extreme enough to merit its own hefty screen-time (e.g. the whole cover dedicated to Daredevil using a pistol during the original Miller run).

Also, have you considered the idea that the points in games like Hero Wars exist only at the metagame level? They don't represent "pieces of the universe" the way they do in GURPS or DC Heroes. Therefore spending a Hero Point in Hero Wars is more like a Universalis Coin - a bit of "right" among the real people - then like a GURPS character point - which is like a bit of "reality" in the game-world.

Now for the tricky stuff, Jon.

Questions about X can't be answered with Y, if Y isn't clearer than X to start with. Therefore I don't want to get too deep into the Narrativism issue. But ... for future reference, I'll say here that reward systems in Narrativist play are not unique in any special way. As with any mode of play, if they operate to reinforce the goals, then they "work."

Most people at the Forge agree that positive-reinforcement is a desirable element of a game system of any type, which goes for Narrativist play as well as any other. Beyond that, we'd have to specify a given Narrativist play-style and corresponding game design, and then talk about the role of its reward system. Orkworld, Paladin, Zero, and Sorcerer would all be good candidates. They're pretty different, but they are all based on very direct mechanical links among what the character did, how the character's numbers relate to one another, and how that changes.

In fact, the definition of Narrativism leads me to say that bringing moral conflicts to the character (the "thematic bundle") is the point of play. Therefore the reward system is best designed to reflect those moments, as opposed to doing stuff which doesn't "mean" anything.

As for the positive vs. negative element, yes, sometimes those effects are negative, i.e., a bit of punishment is involved. Narrativist game designs have a way of taking sides when it comes to moral questions. Both Sorcerer and The Riddle of Steel are pretty ruthless in this regard.

Best,
Ron
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #19 on: December 27, 2002, 05:27:42 PM »

Quote from: erithromycin
Now, I'm all for taking things from my fallen foes, largely because I like treasure, but also because, unlike Captain America or Batman, the souvenirs are petty personal things. Mementos, if you will.

This goes off-topic a bit but have you seen all of the crazy crap in the Batcave in the comic? Momentos, my lad. Batman is not unsentimental after all.
Quote
I think what I'm trying to say is that paying for things that you acquire needn't be a case of cementing them with XP.

You need to think of it a little differently. It's more like adding it to the character's "thematic package" or "idiom." Nothing keeps, say, Spider-Man from pysically picking up a gun and using it in a pinch. But to keep it, to make it a part of his costume, it needs to be justified somehow. XP/Hero Point expendature works. Not Web-head is also bullet-slinger.
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #20 on: December 27, 2002, 11:29:21 PM »

I think Jack Spencer Jr. touched on it first, but I'd like to clarify a few things before we get too caught up in the whole 'superhero thing.'  The first and foremost thing that springs to my mind is the different drives gaming and comics serve.

Comic books are about making money (at least the icons we're talking about here are).  This creates a few interesting idiosyncrasies that seem to be slipping under the radar here.  First is that superheroes are product.  That's why they so scrupulously stick to 'their idiom.'  It isn't honor, it isn't pathos, it isn't habit; these are non-existent beings.  Look at Spider-man; how many times have they tried to 'refashion' his image?  Remember the 'all black' costume he brought back from the Secret Wars™?  Public response had them vilify it.  How about the 'hooded sweatshirt' version from the 'clone saga?'  Another lead balloon.  I believe one of the reasons Hollywood stuck with the traditional 'red and blues' (rather than giving it 'the Batman treatment') was because the image is product; look at the sales.

Gaming is a whole different animal.  Gaming is about self-expression, gaming is about 'what I'd do,' gaming is about 'seeing what works,' and so on.  Nothing even remotely connected to 'identifiability' or 'branding' there.  If anything, 'sticking to your idiom' is a holdover that I don't see going into practice 'on the street' level.  I can see why some games make an explicit effort to capture some of this (in attempting to emulate the source material), but I don't think they've considered why.

Worse, these constant citings of the source material are reaching out to an undefined quantity.  Many of the more recent comic books have gone the way of 'hero picks up a gun' (and I'm not talking about things like the 'Daredevil treatment' of the issue).  There isn't really a central concept we can reach out to and say 'this is comic book superheroes;' we each have our own perceptions about what that is and I think this conversation is just barely beginning to show signs of those turning out significantly different.  If we continue to off-handedly explore how "Item Collecting" is represented in comic books and mirrored in gaming, I'm pretty sure these 'personal definitions¹' are going to come into conflict and detract from the 'meat' of the discussion (which I'm really following closely).

Even farther murkier still is something Ron touched on yesterday.  That is 'how the whole relates to rewards systems.'  Y'see that's what "Item Collection" is isn't it?  In the game you do 'stuff' and you get 'stuff.'  Depending on your approach to gaming, you're looking for different kinds of 'stuff' (or more accurately 'stuff' that does different things).  If 'beating the odds' is your bag, 'better stuff' is your goal.  If 'telling a story' is your idea of fun, more 'interesting stuff' is a payoff.  And so on.

Worse, it fits on at least two levels with blurred combinations all over the place.  One is the meta-game level, 'stuff' affects your character's impact on the game (for whatever the reason); like some have mentioned this figures into 'spotlight time.'  On another level, it's pure reward for the character; like payment for a job well done.  (Other levels include sentimental value and et cetera.)  This is terribly indirect and blurry as all get out, but it does all come back to the 'reward' idea.  I don't know if we're ever going to come to any useful conclusions in the abstract about specific mechanisms of "Item Collection" and I suggest that specific goals require specific threads (outside of this one).  We can, however, discuss the relationship between "Item Collection" and rewards systems with how that factors into our goals (but, as diverse as those are, I'm not sure how productive that might be short of the informative 'here is what I do').

I mean, I'm a big fan of 'pay for it if you keep it' Mechanix, but since I'm trying to create a game system that will tailor itself to widely different approaches, I have to make this 'cost' tailor itself as well (which is why this topic is so intriguing).  Issues of spotlight time, efficacy, and 'I can pick it up, can't I?' all factor in, but rarely simultaneously.  That's where I see this discussion starting to break down.  Talk of the superhero 'thematic bundles' score to emulating a genre driven by branding and product-identity, yet Champions handles it primarily from an efficacy direction; talk about blurry.  Hero Wars sounds like it skews towards self-identification and 'staying true' to that, but that only results in 'paralleling' comic books.

Jon's original topic of "item collection...directly related to 'idiom preservation' or 'thematic collections of powers,'" might or might not be driven by emulating a certain restricted vision of genre, that will necessarily be a factor in choosing design goals.  Whether it is a matter of restricting or directing this process can only fall to the support of the 'background material presence' on the goals of the design and 'how the game is supposed to be played.'  (I see this latter as example why the GNS seems to make a ghostly cameo on the discussion.)  Define those first, and then we can really talk about the purpose and application of "Item Collection" mechanics in a game.

I'm all ears.

Fang Langford

¹ Personally, I believe that archetypical comic books (beyond the 'branding effect') are an exploration of the internal struggle between urges to 'be good' and otherwise, within the human psyche.  Laying it out Freudian, the superhero represents the superego in his unassailable virtue.  The supervillain represents the id, often taking the form of using the same powers for 'dark purposes' (and the privacy of one's supervillains practically screams 'these are my own problems' in the presentation).  Thus the 'civilian identity' represents the ego, the outward face of this struggle and how we hide all of it from those around us, even though it threatens every part of our lives.  All this is wrapped up in excesses (like superpowers) and iconography and presented in one of the most 'icon driven' media available, the comic book.
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #21 on: December 28, 2002, 09:31:46 AM »

Quote from: Le Joueur
Gaming is a whole different animal.  Gaming is about self-expression, gaming is about 'what I'd do,' gaming is about 'seeing what works,' and so on.  

I think it's worth adding to the list that is said out loud here: gaming is about 'what I would like to see.'
Quote
If anything, 'sticking to your idiom' is a holdover that I don't see going into practice 'on the street' level.

I don't think I can argee with you there, Fang. Maybe I am misunderstanding you. Do you mean you don't see it going into practice in the theoretical sense or in the this is not what happens sense?

I either case, I can see it going into practice on street level. First because it's part of the goal to see what you want to see. If you want an RPG about comic book heroes, to keep this example even though it is probably best abbondoned, you want the character to be like characters that appear in comic books. Most players don't really care about why super heroes stick to their idiom or any of the freudian nightmare behind them and all that stuff. They want guys in silly outfits hitting each other, just like in the comics. It may require the product idiomizing and feudian nightmare to get what they want, but that's the game designer's problem, not the players'. :)

I think that idiom is a valid way to define a character (my dictionary defines idiom as
4. The style of expression characteristic of an individual; as, the idiom of Carlyle.
5. a characteristic style, as in art or music)
This is about expectations and defining just who, exactly is this character and what does he do or what is he like. I do think, personally, that adherence to idiom as if it is set in stone is a bad way to go, but this may be getting off topic.
Quote
Worse, these constant citings of the source material are reaching out to an undefined quantity.  Many of the more recent comic books have gone the way of 'hero picks up a gun' (and I'm not talking about things like the 'Daredevil treatment' of the issue).  There isn't really a central concept we can reach out to and say 'this is comic book superheroes;'

I think it's like Sword and Sorcerer and Ron's definition of Herioc Fantasy and what is or isn't Heroic Fantasy and stuff very much like that. I mean, it's like we're talking about stuff like the original Conan stories here, without explicitly saying that's what we're talking about, and now someone has come along and mentioned the Diskworld series and said that by citing source material is reaching to an undefined quantity because there really isn't a central concept we can reach out to and say "this is fantasy." I'm not putting you down, Fang, just pointing out what the whole line of conversation was doing, if I made any sense here, and to be fair, we didn't say we were talking about a specific form of comic book heroes here. This is, of course, the problem with genre because there are lots of sub-genres and other crap that saying "comic book heroes" or "fantasy" really tells you nothing but the barest minimum of what to expect or we are talking about.
Quote
We can, however, discuss the relationship between "Item Collection" and rewards systems with how that factors into our goals (but, as diverse as those are, I'm not sure how productive that might be short of the informative 'here is what I do').

Here is what I do, or what my thoughts on the matter are, anyway.

First off, the whole idea of item collecting come from D&D body looting. Something that makes sense in that and similar games, but not so much in other games.

Some anecdotal stuff.

In a V&V campaign, we had an NPC in the group called Pollyanna, because her name was Anna and she became four people, get it. That's her power, and it really didn't help much in a fight, so we took her to a sporting goods store and bought her some baseball bats for the accuracy and damage bonuses. The GM went along with this, but later took the bats away "because that's not what heroes do." At the time, I was rather upset about this because being heroic meant putting her at a definate strategic disadvantage because she really had no other powers.

In a recent fantasy campaign, we fought some goblins and took their stuff. They were funded by a local wizard so aside from a good washing, most of their stuff was primo: fine qualty bed rolls, armour, equipment, and so on, and a figgen river boat. The goblins had a river boat and we took it. In fantasy games, the group tends to turn into a wandering flea market like this. (my group has a picture in the GNS dictionary next to incoherent)

Where I am with item collection is a divided issue. On ethe one hand, the gamist-like hand, I see character creation sort of like building a battle bot, and while finding some items to help the character is a good idea, other are kind of like admitting your design was crappy anyway, or something to that effect. On the narrativist end, I don't think it's about getting interesting stuff so much as getting stuff in an interesting or entertaining manner. Remember in the movie Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? (super heros again) Casey Jones was fighting that guy and he saw the golf clubs and beat him and then added the clubs to his aresenal. This is pretty close to what we're talking about here (although I don't think Casey even appeared in subsequent movies, much less used the clubs) He picked up an item and added it to his possessions, his collection of tools. He did so in an interesting manner "I'll never call golf a dull game again" and it just happened to fit into his idiom of a vigilante who used sports equipment as weapons.

I don't know about stuff like character rewards. They aren't real people. They don't care if they get paid or not. It is ultimately a player reward, I suppose, but that's a whole other ball of wax.

I'm running out of gas here, so I'll stop and see what others think.
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #22 on: December 28, 2002, 06:44:00 PM »

Hey Jack,

Thanks for responding; I thought your points were important.

Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
Quote from: Le Joueur
Gaming is a whole different animal.  Gaming is about self-expression, gaming is about 'what I'd do,' gaming is about 'seeing what works,' and so on.  

I think it's worth adding to the list that is said out loud here: gaming is about 'what I would like to see.'

Good point.

Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
Quote from: Le Joueur
If anything, 'sticking to your idiom' is a holdover that I don't see going into practice 'on the street' level.

I don't think I can argee with you there, Fang. Maybe I am misunderstanding you. Do you mean you don't see it going into practice in the theoretical sense or in the this is not what happens sense?

Hey, I'm not everywhere, but I see this idea of 'needing to pay for what you pick up' a result of trying to limit or restrict players to 'sticking to their idioms' as an example of people not 'sticking to their idioms' "'on the street' level."  If it weren't a problem, would we be having this discussion?  I don't know.

Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
I think that idiom is a valid way to define a character (my dictionary defines idiom as
    4. The style of expression characteristic of an individual; as, the idiom of Carlyle.
    5. a characteristic style, as in art or music)[/list:u]This is about expectations and defining just who, exactly is this character and what does he do or what is he like. I do think, personally, that adherence to idiom as if it is set in stone is a bad way to go, but this may be getting off topic.

That's exactly what I've been working towards with Scattershot's Sine Qua Non Persona Development Technique.  But this doesn't talk much about the very different reasons different games have for encouraging 'sticking to your idiom.'  That's the problem I've been trying to highlight; different games have different reasons.  Various design approaches result in different rationale; some do it for no reason, while others should but don't.  We've been talking to broadly about "Item Collection" as if it could be all handled in the same specific fashion.  I don't think that's true.

Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
Quote from: Le Joueur
Worse, these constant citings of the source material are reaching out to an undefined quantity.  Many of the more recent comic books have gone the way of 'hero picks up a gun' (and I'm not talking about things like the 'Daredevil treatment' of the issue).  There isn't really a central concept we can reach out to and say 'this is comic book superheroes;'

I think it's like Sword and Sorcerer and Ron's definition of Herioc Fantasy and what is or isn't Heroic Fantasy and stuff very much like that. I mean, it's like we're talking about stuff like the original Conan stories here, without explicitly saying that's what we're talking about, and now someone has come along and mentioned the Diskworld series and said that by citing source material is reaching to an undefined quantity because there really isn't a central concept we can reach out to and say "this is fantasy." I'm not putting you down, Fang, just pointing out what the whole line of conversation was doing, if I made any sense here, and to be fair, we didn't say we were talking about a specific form of comic book heroes here. This is, of course, the problem with genre because there are lots of sub-genres and other crap that saying "comic book heroes" or "fantasy" really tells you nothing but the barest minimum of what to expect or we are talking about.

That's a better way of making the point I was trying to.  I thought we were speaking a little too "barest minimum;" perhaps the posts simply expected one to know what specifics they spoke of, but didn't come out and say it.  That's all I was trying to say here.

Fang Langford
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #23 on: December 28, 2002, 08:41:58 PM »

Quote from: Le Joueur
Thanks for responding; I thought your points were important.

Thanks. I tried to speak intelligently (I must be sick)
Quote
But this doesn't talk much about the very different reasons different games have for encouraging 'sticking to your idiom.'  That's the problem I've been trying to highlight; different games have different reasons.  Various design approaches result in different rationale; some do it for no reason, while others should but don't.  We've been talking to broadly about "Item Collection" as if it could be all handled in the same specific fashion.  I don't think that's true.

I think I get what you're saying here. Some games can just have characters pick up an item without any problem. Other have that idiom, Sine qua non thing, and should have a cost involved or some such. The game should do what is shoulod, and nothing that it shouldn't. We can all agree with that. I think we got stuck on comics because the thread originated with a question about Mutants & Masterminds. So that's what happened.
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erithromycin
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« Reply #24 on: December 29, 2002, 08:05:48 AM »

I hate it when everyone agrees. It makes me feel like the internet's broken.

Anyway, the point that I was trying to make about keeping stuff was that sometimes it's something you're going to use, and sometime's it's a souveneir. It'd be unlikely that Batman would wander around with that giant penny in case he needed it, but a street punk might well keep a stray Batarang as a prestige thing.

I think there's one basic question:

What does collecting and using the item mean to the character?

The answer to that informs everything else, no matter the genre. [1]

To use the Captain America example, the gun itself is meaningless, but using it on the Red Skull isn't. The instances of moral compromise implicit in such actions ring a great big narrative bell.

The loot o' the goblins is a bit more difficult - gaining it is difficult, I assume, and using it might also be difficult. Even if it were freshly laundered, it'd still belong to stinking filthy goblins. Using the riverboat might provide complications. This seems simulationist, in that one can grab the stuff, but it's very origin having consequences seems cool in all three arenas.

Once you've answered the question [though that 'does' may become a 'should'] you can start finding mechanics [or something] to suit.

- drew

[1] Though this is cheating a little, as it'll mean different things in different genres. Still, I like to make bold sweeping statements.
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my name is drew

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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #25 on: December 29, 2002, 08:23:06 AM »

Hello,

Agreement! Yay! Or, in Drew's case, ah, shit!

This was a great and fascinating thread, folks. Anyone else want to contribute or comment? Jon, are you happy with it?

Best,
Ron
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zaal
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« Reply #26 on: December 31, 2002, 08:36:28 AM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
This was a great and fascinating thread, folks. Anyone else want to contribute or comment? Jon, are you happy with it?

It sounds like you want it to end, Ron  ;)  .

I'm happy with the thread.  Drew brought up the Big Question (what does item collecting mean to the character?), which actually does a pretty good job of putting me on solid ground.  

I'm sorry there was a bit of confusion about what exactly we were talking about.  I think Jack explained things quite well, however.  I just used the example of Captain America (and superheroes) because I felt that was the most blatant case of "forgetting" the character concept, whatever that means.  I've had players play supposedly principled characters before, but often times they resort to the expedient solution as opposed to the principled solution.  This was some time ago, so I can't really remember if it was failed communication on my part (I'm pretty sure I told them what I was trying to get from the game, but I'm not sure) or if they weren't being very cooperative.

In any event, I feel better suited to meeting the challenge should it arise again.  If I do have any questions I'll be sure to raise them.

Jon
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #27 on: December 31, 2002, 12:16:41 PM »

Here's a thread that I started a while back that pertains, I think.

http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2610

Mike
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